In the 1960s, nine-year-old Sebastian and his brothers were sent to live in a Salvation Army boys’ home in regional New South Wales.
Mr Richardson was a local teacher and Salvation Army officer who lived on the premises. He would come and give music lessons at the home, and he organised outings and treats such as lollies and soft drinks – all very rare things for the boys.
A lot of the children, including Sebastian at first, wanted to be just like Mr Richardson. ‘You looked up to him. When someone takes a shine to you, and you’ve got nobody in your life ... You cling.’
The teacher groomed Sebastian then sexually abused him numerous times, moving from hugging and touching to rape.
After leaving the home Sebastian moved around working, got into trouble, and was sent to a juvenile detention centre in Queensland in his mid-teens. He attempted to run away on two occasions, and was beaten and raped by a male prison officer as punishment.
When he was in his 20s he met his first partner. She was concerned that he wouldn’t show affection in public, which led him to disclose the abuse – ‘she was devastated’.
‘We were like two little peas in the pod. I started a sentence, she’d finish it. But I could never hold her, hold her hand, or cuddle her. I could never do that. So what’s that tell you? ... The thing is, later in life she’s gone, and I miss her.’
Sebastian has tried to ‘put things away’ but the memories still return.
‘Something in the older years, like now, will open that door ... I see it every day, it plays back every day, you know what I mean. It’s a continual film ... He took my childhood away. I never ever trust anyone again.’
Recently Sebastian told his doctor about his childhood experiences. ‘She assessed me for having that men’s depression ... I forget now what they call it. And she gave me tablets. I just said, “Look, I’m better without the tablets, they make me too happy. I don’t want to be happy, like I want to be just me”.’
He does not want to engage with further professional support or therapy, unless the person providing it has had similar experiences to his. ‘Doesn’t matter what counsellor you get, they mean the best, they honestly do, but they haven’t gone through it ... Unless you’ve actually gone through what’s happened, you can’t really suggest ... You can read anything you like in a book.’
Some years ago Sebastian went through a state redress scheme and received compensation for the sexual abuse.
‘I do feel we were let down a bit on that payment because it was nowhere near what we went through.’
More recently he attempted to report the abuse at the home to the Salvation Army. He was unable to talk to anyone about the matter and was instead passed back and forth between different staff.
‘I could not get the Salvation Army to return my calls or provide information ... I was embarrassed and confused about it ... [And had] concerns that I would be labelled a poofter or a queer for explaining it and having suffered the abuse ... I left contact details and gave up when I could not get a response.’
He became ‘disheartened’ but didn’t know how to access any legal assistance to take the matter further – ‘lawyers and things like that, I don’t have a clue’.
Sebastian would like acknowledgement that the abuse happened, and financial compensation if it’s available. He still experiences physical pain and discomfort from the injuries he sustained during the sexual abuse. ‘If there is compensation ... that’s good. That can help with the pain, probably see a proper doctor and see if it can be fixed.’
He recently reported the abuse to police who, after advising him that it happened too long ago to do anything about, gave him information about a support organisation.
Sebastian’s first partner, kids, and dog have all helped him get through his troubles. ‘Also the change of the environment around people's perception of victims of child abuse in institutions. It is a lot easier to talk about it because the dark cloud over it doesn't exist any longer where previously people would be considered a sook or poofter and the stigma is not attached anymore because you are a victim.’